Thursday, August 30, 2018

Leveling the Internet

Years from now, history students -- assuming that some school, somewhere, somehow still teaches history -- will be studying the profound effects the internet had on the humans inhabiting planet Earth.  I'm sure there will be all kinds of term papers on Changing Habits of Social Intercourse -- How the Internet Transformed Love and Romance, and more than one doctoral thesis on The Free Speech Train Wreck: How Big Corporations Derailed Free Speech on the Information Superhighway.  

You get the idea. These are the kind of retrospectives in which freshmen and graduate students alike revel, gorging themselves on footnotes to sustain their arguments in an effort to substantiate their own points of view.  Just as twentieth century students viewed the War Between the States as being all about slavery (it wasn't) to naively bolster their discussions about civil rights, I suspect future posers will look to the mid-twentieth century to defend their take on "government overreach into the freedom of the press."  Specifically, they're going to try to make the case for the government'snot interfering with the data that flows throughout the internet.

I submit to you right here and now, they shall be proven wrong, and within a decade or two, all the tech mega-monoliths, specifically search engines and social media,  will be subject to a regulatory agency much like the Federal Communications Commission, if not the FCC itself.

To begin with, you have to know your history.  Understand that while the concept of wireless communication was proven viable in the late nineteenth century, it wasn't until the early twentieth century that radio went commercial.  Until then, the best electronic communication we had was the telegraph.  When "the wireless" was born, and millions of radios were sold throughout the country, an interesting question was born with it:

Who owns the airwaves across which radio content is broadcast?

Radio waves traveling out into the air with no means of restriction meant that the content they carried could not be restricted, either.  Additionally, since the air over American soil was borderless, the good people of government were faced with a decision:  Either the American government could own the airwaves or the Americanpeople could own the airwaves.  In 1934, the Feds essentially split the difference, giving ownership of the airwaves to the American people while subjecting them to government regulation via the FCC.

Ever since, just about any kind of commercial content carried over government-regulated airwaves (there are bandwidths in which content is not regulated) has been subject to government rules and standards. And it worked just fine until about 1970, when the wheels started to come off.

The seventies is about when the first cable television systems began sprouting up. At first, cable was introduced to assure higher quality television reception where "rabbit ears" antennae simply weren't cutting it.  At some point, however, someone figured out that content flowing over privately-owned coaxial cable wasn't being transmitted over the air at all and therefore wasn't subject to government regulation.

It was a pretty slick loophole that let the Playboy channel in and cut government interference out. By trading a monthly fee for commercial free viewing, users happily propelled cable TV into an explosion of popularity.  About the only concession any government got was the local burgs' requiring cable companies to provide free public access in exchange for the monopoly within their zip codes.

But what does all this have to do with regulating the internet?  Stick with me:

In 2018, the big story is whether techno-giants like Facebook, Twitter and Google should be allowed to impose their own political biases on the content they provide between users of their services.  On the one hand, these are companies owned by shareholders, much like the radio and TV networks of old, all of which were subject to government regulation because they broadcast their content over the airwaves.  On the other, most Boomers spent the bulk of their internet infancy either dialing up through a phone cord or logging onthrough an Ethernet cable, which made the internet seem more like cable TV, and thus free from any government interference.

So with the explosive growth of internet usage, the big question when and if the government should step in and regulate or not?  I submit that government can and should regulate the techno-giants for one very simple reason:

History has repeated itself, only this time in reverse.  The internet is now as wireless as it is cabled (if not moreso), which means the content delivered to you wirelessly is once again traversing American air space.  And that's the stuff that belongs to all of us, not just the techno-giants.  All it would take is Congress updating the charter of the FCC to include any bandwidth over which internet content can be transmitted.  Simple!

Think it can't happen?  Think again.  After all, you didn't think Trump would win, either.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Myth of Smart

I've spent most of my career as a brand strategist. That means I slap CEOs into the realization that no matter how much they spend on marketing and advertising and social media and public relations, nothing is going to happen until they develop and execute a true brand strategy.  And by true brand strategy, I mean the kind of strategy that's not only clear, credible, authoritative and defensible, but also fattens up the bottom line with cold, hard cash.

As I tell anyone who will listen, the trick to succeeding in business -- or anything, really -- is simply a matter of getting into the other guys' heads.  It doesn't matter if you're negotiating a real estate deal or blasting your brand through some narcissistic phone app:  If you don't know what's going on in your target audience's heads, you're going to fail. Period.

That particular pontification carries a lot more weight than you might imagine.  In fact, it's one of the basic tenets I convey to Millennials who find themselves frustrated in their post-collegitate travails.  Why, they wonder, are they feeling so helpless in their pursuits of careers?  After all, they're smart.  They're willing.  They're capable.  Yet somehow, nothing seems to be clicking.

I offer them two pieces of wisdom:

First, they have to get into the heads of the business world, and a good place to start is with the realizations that (A) all we want to do is make money and (B) everything prior to college graduation is a lie.  It's true. Out here in real life, working to achieve approval doesn't get you squat. In the same vein, advancement isn't a matter of doing the reading and writing a term paper.

Out here, there is no formal structure or fulfillment of requirements that automatically propels you to the next level.  There's also no meritocracy.  But by far, most disappointing of all is the realization that despite all those safe spaces and navel-gazing professors, nobody really cares about how smart you are.  That's because being smart has little, if anything, to do with business success.  Being a businessman, however, has plenty to do with it -- and that's something that no school currently teaches, because it's political taboo. 

Second, they must accept the fact that contrary to what they've been taught in school, there's a lot -- and I mean millions of metric tonnes -- of non-geniuses out there.  I'm not shooting from the hip here.  I'm talking plain, basic math.  Take a look at this bell curve of IQ distribution to get an idea of what I'm talking about:

Pretty scary, eh? And it's totally legit.  If you take a close look, you'll see that George Carlin was right on the mark when he said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that "the average person isn't very bright and half of them are even stupider than that." Hey, I know it's not a terribly popular, everyone-gets-a-trophy kind of sentiment.  But it's mathematically and statistically correct.

The average IQ score is 100, encompassing about 68% of the population. If you add in the population who isn't even that bright, all the way down to the bottom of the barrel, you'll find that an astonishing 84% of the population ranges from "average" to "breathing paperweight."  That leaves about 16% of people who are "above average" or "really, really smart."

But what does all of that have to do with branding?

Well, if you subscribe to the notion that success really is a function of "getting into their heads," it's probably time you got real about the kind of heads you're getting into.  Whether you're climbing the corporate ladder or pitching some sort of digital dementia, it's a good idea to abandon your idealistic image of everyone being smart and motivated and as eager to change their lives as you are. Maybe it's time you start accepting that while you may be brilliant and aspirational, perhaps the rest of the world simply isn't up to your standards.

That could explain why, despite your smarts, nobody seems to buy into your fabulous ideas. I know it's happened to me over the years. Many were the times I'd traipse out of an office, scratching my head and wondering, "How could they not get this?" That's when I realized I hadn't gotten into their heads; I was expecting them to get into mine.

Big mistake.

Since then, I've come to accept that for 84% of the world, keeping things the way they are is just fine. For them, paying the rent, being a good parent, staying out of debt and mastering Call of Duty really is a worthy enough goal.  So maybe those ads of yours shouldn't be set in that east coast upper middle class Cape Cod townhome by the bay, starring some white collar interracial couple leasing that expensive foreign coupe that neither of them can afford.

Maybe you should be getting into the heads of folks to whom being super smart, totally ripped and uber hip isn't nearly as important as being happy and loved and satisfied with what they've got.  Folks who are smart enough to know who and what they are -- and who and what they aren't.  Those are people who value wisdom over smarts, and maybe that makes them a whole lot brighter than all those self-proclaimed, agenda-driven media gurus.

After all, according to the stats, 84% of them aren't exactly geniuses.